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Updated 5 October 2009
Yurika NAKAMURA, Japan (Marathon)
Born: 1 April 1986, Hyogo Pref.
Current Residence: Okayama
Coach: Yutaka Taketomi
Considered to be a bright hope on both track and road, at the age of 22 Yurika Nakamura was selected for Japan’s Olympic Marathon team based on her impressive debut at the distance. Competing in the 2008 Nagoya International Women’s Marathon, Nakamura beat a field of Japanese stars to win in 2:25.51.
Although her best finish in the National Inter High School Championships was sixth at 3000m, when she was a senior at Nishinomiya High School, Nakamura’s talent on the road was attracting more attention. Because Nishinomiya High had to compete against track powerhouse Suma Gakuen High School, an alma mater of Beijing bound Olympian Yuriko Kobayashi, to advance to the National High School Ekiden Championship, it was hard for Nishinomiya High to progress to the Nationals. In fact, for the first two years after Nakamura joined the team Nishinomiya High did not advance to the nationals.
However, in 2003, Nakamura ran in the National High School Ekiden as a member of the district select team. She was sixth in the first stage, where most of the best high school runners in Japan compete for supremacy. Her team finished third. In the same year, Nakamura was selected to run in the World Cross Country Championships, but because of the outbreak of SARS, the Japanese team did not go to Lausanne.
Nakamura thus missed an opportunity to run in what was going to be her first international major championships. In 2005, she did gain selection again for the World Cross Country Championships, finishing fifteenth in the junior division in St-Etienne/St Galmier, France.
Nakamura’s potential was spotted by Yutaka Taketomi, coach of Tenmaya track team. Taketomi has a great record of coaching women’s Marathon runners as attested by the fact that Eri Yamaguchi was seventh in the Marathon at the Sydney Olympics, and Naoko Sakamoto was fourth in the 2003 World Championships and seventh in the 2004 Olympics. Because Nakamura looked up to Sakamoto, whose alma mater is also Nishinomiya High School, she decided to join Tenmaya track team.
Making steady progress, in 2006, her third year out of high school, Nakamura finished second in the All Japan Corporate team Half Marathon Championships with 1:10:03. She was selected to run the World Road Running Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, where she finished seventh. Nakamura continued to make steady progress. She finished 9th at 5000m in the national championships in July 2007, and then recorded 15:21.92 for 5000m in December. In January of the following year, she won Miyazaki Women’s road race (5km).
"What I noticed when I saw Nakamura run for the first time, when she was a high school junior, was her fluid running form, including smooth landing and quick turn over," recalls Taketomi. Ever since Nakamura’s early days with Tenmaya track team, Teketomi was thinking that she can make the Beijing Olympic marathon team. So in March 2008, Nakamura entered the Nagoya International Women’s Marathon in her attempt to make the Olympic team.
Another Tenmaya runner, Tomo Morimoto was the first Japanese in the Osaka International Ladies Marathon in January, and thus was contending for an Olympic marathon team spot. Furthermore, several top runners, including Naoko Sakamoto, who was seventh in Athens, Naoko Takahashi, Sydney Olympic gold medalist, and Yumiko Hara, who was sixth in the 2005 World Championships, were in the race in their attempt to gain a spot in the Olympic team.
The race attracted great attention. Although many experts had high regard for Nakamura, among fans she was a relative unknown.
In the race, after Takahashi dropped off the pace early, several contenders took turns in the lead, before Nakamura surged away from all her competitions at 32.5km. She won convincingly with 2:25:51.
With Reiko Tosa pre-selected because she had won a medal in the 2007 World Championships, the team selection committee convened a day after Nagoya to select two other members of the women’s Olympic Marathon team. The committee first selected Athens gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi, who won the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in 2:21:37, especially because she ran the last half (which was uphill) in 1:11:07. Then the committee selected Nakamura as a third member of the Olympic team, because in Nagoya she defeated many of the best marathon runners in Japan.
"I was able to win in Nagoya because of my coach and team-mates," said Nakamura. In fact, she said she received some advice from Sakamoto before the race.
In 2004, her first year with Tenmaya, Nakamura went to Athens to cheer Naoko Sakamoto. Four years later, it was her turn to be cheered by her team-mates in Beijing.
Before the Beijing Olympics, Nakamura trained at high altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico,United States. Her training went well and thus Yurika showed her confidence at the press conference held two days before the race. "I was injury free and training went smoothly as scheduled," said Nakamura, who was running the second marathon of her career in her first Olympic Games.
Although hot and muggy weather was expected in Beijing, the weather on race day turned out to be quite reasonable for the marathon: the sky was cloudy with a cool breeze and occasional drizzle, and the temperature at the start was only 23°C. Although Yurika was close to the leaders in the early stages, she fell behind after 25Km. At one point, she dropped as low as 18th place, but at the end, Nakamura finished 13th with 2:30:19.
"Because my training went well before the race, I thought I could do better, but I was not able to contend for a medal. Perhaps I was not mentally ready for the world class race," analysed Nakamura after the event. Her coach Taketomi pointed out another possibility. "Because the racing conditions were quite good on race day, the difference in the current form was evident in Beijing." As it turned out the difference between Yurika and the world class runners was glaringly obvious in Beijing. "Because my first marathon was better than expected, I was able to make the Olympic Marathon team. Perhaps, I was not really ready to run with the best in the world; the results reflected it," said Nakamura.
Originally, both Nakamura and Taketomi were targeting the Marathon at the 2012 London Olympics. So after Beijing, reflecting on her performance at the Olympics, Taketomi and Nakamura decided to go back to basics.
"Looking back at the Beijing result, I thought Nakamura needs to improve her half marathon performance first, which means she needs to improve her times at 5000m and 10,000m. Thus the guiding principle for planning the 2009 training and racing schedule was set," explains Taketomi. With this guiding principle, the planning for the 2012 London Olympic Games has begun.
First, for a month starting in mid-February, in New Zealand, Nakamura did lots of long-distance work. After working on her speed for a month from late March, Yurika ran track races in April and May. Furthermore, although Nakamura’s main target was to make the World Championships team on track events at the national championships at the end of June, for the duration of a month from mid-May, she attended a marathon training camp setup by the JAAF at the high altitude of Boulder.
"It is important to build the solid training base so that she can produce good result regardless of the circumstances. Unless Nakamura can make the team at track events even while training for the marathon, she won’t be competitive in the World Championships. Naturally, she won’t be competitive at the marathon unless she can handle any situation," Teketomi explains.
Although she was only sixth at 10,000m with 32:21.07 at the nationals, because Yurika won the 5000m with 15:25.31, she was selected to run both 5000m and 10,000m in Berlin.
Unlike in Beijing, in Berlin, which was Nakamura’s first World Championships appearance, she was not intimidated by the world class field. In the 10,000m, held on the first day of the Championships, Yurika led in the early stages. Although she was not able to keep up with the leaders in the late stage of the race, she was able to keep the pace steady and at the end, Yurika improved her personal best by 17.56 seconds to finish in 31:14.39, the fourth fastest time in history by Japanese women. She finished seventh, which was the first top eight finish by a Japanese woman in ten years at 10,000m. At the 1999 World Championships in Sevilla, Harumi Hiroyama and Chiemi Takahashi had finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Later at the World Championships, she improved her personal best at 5000m as well. After recording a PB of 15:21.01 in the heat, Yurika led the race for the first 1500m in the 5000m Final and finished 12th in another personal best of 15:13.01.
After the race, Nakamura told Japanese track magazine: "I am happy because I was able to focus on running my own race in Berlin. In fact, I was able to run relaxed in all three races, so I wish for a similar performance in the longer distances in the future."
Taketomi acknowledge that Nakamura is steadily improving. "She worked on speed for a month between the national championships and the World Championships. Nakamura ran all three races in Berlin the way she ought to run. Even in the 5000m Final, her third race in Berlin, she did not show any sign of fatigue and thus was able to record another personal best. It was because she had solid training base due to marathon training she had done in May," explained Taketomi.
Taketomi thinks that in order to win a medal at the Marathon in the 2012 London Olympics, Yurika needs to improve half marathon best to below 1:08. As a precursor, Taketomi wants her to run 1:08 for the half marathon in Birmingham.
Currently, her half marathon best is 1:09:20, which was recorded in the 2009 Sapporo International Half Marathon on July 5, a week after the national track and field championships. "I hope to run a 1:08 half marathon in Birmingham. It will be nice to repeat my performance in Berlin again in Birmingham this time at the longer distance," said Nakamura showing her commitment for excellence. If she could fulfill her goal in Birmingham, she is ready to move up to another level.
1500m: 4:38.81 (2003)
3000m: 9:18.80 (2003)
5000m: 15:13.01 (2009)
10,000m: 31:14.39 (2009)
Half Marathon: 1:09:20 (2009)
5000m/10,000m/Half Marathon/Marathon: 2002: 16:39.16/-/-/-; 2003: 16:12.78/-/-/-; 2004: 15:57.6/-/1:13:12/-; 2005: 15:34.41/32:52.94/1:11:18/-; 2006: 15:23.75/32:54.38/1:10:03/-; 2007: 15:21.92/32:24.65/1:10:23/-; 2008: 15:51.06/31:31.95/-/2:25:51; 2009: 15:13.01/ 31:14.39/ 1:09:20 /-
2005 15th World Cross Country Championships (Junior)
2006 7th World Road Running Championships (20km)
2007 39th World Road Running Championships (Half Marathon)
2008 1st Nagoya International Women's Marathon
2008 13th Olympic Games (Marathon)
2009 7th World Championships (10,000m)
2009 12th World Championships (5000m)
Prepared by Ikumi Kodama for the IAAF 'Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2008-2009.